An Active Approach to Cycling Injuries: Muscle Activation

An Active Approach to Cycling Injuries: Muscle Activation

I wouldn’t even consider beginning a hard workout or lining up in the pen without a thorough warmup.  I can’t quite put my hand on it, aside from reciting the copious scientific research and conflicting evidence, but there is just something about my body that tells me I need that time to stoke the furnace and prime the pump. 

It just feels right, and the older I get the more important it seems to have become.  There is theoretical evidence that the same can be said for pre-ride warmup of specific muscle groups.  The concept of Muscle Activation, otherwise known as pre-activation or corrective warm-up, is the act of isolating a target muscle through active exercise prior to the main activity.  

What is Muscle Activation?

Our predominantly seated lifestyle causes the gluteals and deep core muscles to shut down due to improper posture and biomechanics.  The inactivity of these muscles and the emphasis upon the quads, hip flexors, and hamstrings creates poor movement patterns and the potential for injury.

This muscle imbalance also limits performance and inhibits training progress.  Through Muscle Activation athletes provide a stimulus to inactive muscle groups prior to the activity, facilitating their efficient function.

Why is Muscle Activation Important for Cyclists?

The gluteus maximus is one of the largest muscle groups in the body, and when aided by the smaller medius and minimus, provides hip stability and crucial power production during the pedal stroke.  Unfortunately, positioning on and off the bike causes this vital muscle group to underperform.  The lower back and core muscle also fit into this category. 

When other muscles compensate, such as the quads and hamstrings, the weak muscles continue to get weaker.  

Strengthening the Mind-Body Connection

Muscle Activation is, in theory, ‘brain training’: strengthening the brain-muscle connection to optimize the brain-body relationship.  By focusing on a muscle and visualizing it to contract, the strength of contraction improves through enhanced fiber recruitment.  Performing slow, controlled movements while really focusing your mind on the muscles you’re using maximizes activation.

How Are Muscle Activation Programs Performed?

Activation exercises are basic motions meant to isolate and engage a specific muscle. Muscle activation movements should target a singular muscle to facilitate a maximal contraction and feel its engagement.  The key with pre-activation is to warm up and engage the proper muscles without pre-fatiguing them (which would make them less active).

  • Take it slow and controlled, making each repetition deliberate for a maximal contraction through a full range of motion.
  • Focus upon really thinking about the muscles you’re trying to activate. 
  • Perform 8-12 repetitions and two sets with very little to no resistance.

The Cyclist’s Muscle Activation Program

Get the Zwift Insider Muscle Activation Program Complete with Exercise Descriptions >

The Follow-Up Appointment

Stay tuned, as in the next edition of this series I will introduce the theory behind the benefits of plyometric training and how performing plyometric exercise can improve your cycling performance. 

Let Us Know!

Is your warmup routine unique or interesting in any way?  How important is a warmup to you?  Do you feel like you need to warm up your brain as much as you do your legs?  Let your fellow Zwifters know in the comments below!

About The Author

Christopher Schwenker

Chris is a semi-retired physical therapist who, following more than 25 years in solo private practice, considers himself blessed to combine a passion for cycling and creative writing in pursuit of his next life goal. He lives on the North Fork of Long Island with his beautiful wife and two university student children.

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Juliette Valégant
Juliette Valégant
2 months ago

Thank you! I enjoyed the article. I know how to do this before running but I am missing the equivalent routine before cycling. Looking FWD to trying your muscle activation program.

Dave Hicks
Dave Hicks (@drhmm1)
2 months ago

At age 74, warm up is crucial for me and it takes a good 20/30 minutes. I think adding the core exercises to my warm up may help! Thanks!

M. D. S. Günther
M. D. S. Günther
2 months ago

Uff, I never “warmed up” to pre-exercise. It feels like a chore, probably because it essentially is. Right now I just do some light pedaling before I storm out of the gates

Trevor Lenhart
Trevor Lenhart
2 months ago

Question: Are we supposed to do 12 reps PER SIDE, or 12 reps TOTAL? Asking for a friend 🙂

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